Rewind a few years, and this very writer was sitting in a stylishly furnished conference hall in Munich, listening to BMW executives talk about how it planned to offer subscription services that would unlock “upgrades" in customer’s cars.
Often dubbed “microtransactions” in the multimedia world, these subscription packages would allow BMW owners to download over-the-air software upgrades to unlock things like Remote Engine Start via a smartphone, or the ability to turn parking cameras into a dash cam with a BMW Drive Recorder mode.
Things were going relatively well until the sharply dressed exec on the stage unveiled the company also planned to charge customers to unlock hardware features, such as heated seats, that were factory-fitted but pinned behind a paywall until the owner coughed up a monthly fee. Said Munich conference hall was filled with displeased mutterings.
It might come as no surprise then that BMW has now pulled a U-turn on the decision to charge customers to activate hardware functionality.
Speaking to Autocar, BMW’s board member for sales and marketing, Pieter Nota, said: "We are now focusing with those ‘functions on demand’ on software and service-related products, like driving assistance and parking assistance, which you can add later after purchasing the car, or for certain functions that require data transmission that customers are used to paying for in other areas.
"What we don’t do any more – and that is a very well-known example – is offer seat heating by this way. It’s either in or out. We offer it by the factory and you either have it or you don’t.
"We thought that we would provide an extra service to the customer by offering the chance to activate that later, but the user acceptance isn’t that high. People feel that they paid double – which was actually not true, but perception is reality, I always say. So that was the reason we stopped that.”
That said, BMW still plans to forge ahead with charging for software-based services, such as the previously mentioned park assist function. The brand feels this is more accepted by the customer, as they understand it is a software purchase, rather than a standard feature. We are sure many readers will disagree.
However, BMW isn’t the only manufacturer experimenting with Amazon Prime-style subscription packages, as Mercedes-Benz raised a few eyebrows when it announced the Acceleration Increase functionality on its EQE and EQS models, which effectively increased the power output of its luxury EVs.
The package costs users in the US $100 a month to effectively increase power by 45kW to 65kW, depending on the model.